James Franklin Signing Day Press Conference
Feb. 5, 2014
COACH FRANKLIN: I would like to go over the class. First of all, appreciate everybody being here, an exciting day for us. The staff and the team has worked really, really hard at putting this class together, so today was really about celebrating the class and I thought we did a great job of that. There was no drama involved with it; all of the faxes and NLIs we were expecting in came in. A couple of bullet point for you: 15 states represented, 10 team captains, four state championships, three Under Armour All Americans, 10 commits rated 4 stars or higher depending on the recruiting service, entire class rated 3 stars or higher depending on the recruiting service, we finished third in the Big Ten, which I'm not happy about, but we will get that fixed in the future and we finished 22 overall nationally, so that kind of puts it in perspective what the staff was able to do, building on the foundation that was already here, scrambling around in the last couple of weeks. I've got notes on each guy but I will open it up for questions at this point and can't tell you how excited we are about the future.
Q. With the limited number of scholarships you had coming in how do you assess those final slots and what you were able to come away with?
COACH FRANKLIN: As you guys know, we have holes in our roster and we're not going to fill all our depth and probably won't until we get through these limitations. But, in our last couple of spots we were in the position where we thought we might hold a couple of spots and roll those over but the staff kept recruiting and making phone calls and finding guys that we had relationships with and seeing if they were interested. Only if we felt finding someone that was a great fit for us and we did.
Proud of how the staff handled that and we were able to find guys again, we weren't going to dig up guys that we don't, and didn't, have relationships with in the past and I think that really helped. Very, very impressed with the staff and the class and how we were able to close strong at the end. I don't know if I've ever been around a place where you call two kids in the last few days and they don't even visit campus and commit. That's been interesting and that goes back to what we've been reinforcing all the time, it's about relationships and those kids and families were comfortable with us and obviously Penn State speaks for itself.
Q. Were you able to fill the needs that you were looking to fill or was it a case of you weren't sure what your needs were because you haven't had that much time to deal with the current team?
COACH FRANKLIN: The three biggest needs that I looked at, just looking at the roster, the most glaring (need) is offensive tackle. We had two scholarship offensive tackles in the program. That's not the position that you want to be in, so that was a priority for us, getting offensive linemen with length that can play offensive tackle with us. After that, the way we looked at it was safety was another issue. We had a little bit more depth at that position but we're top heavy in term of graduating three seniors at the safety position (after the 2014 season).
Again, that was a little bit of an issue for us, I don't think there are only two underclassmen left after those guys so we had to help ourselves there. After that, to me, you look at our roster, we've got a quarterback that we feel really good about and it would be a shame if we didn't find some talent to surround him with, not saying that we don't have that in the program already but building more depth and more playmakers at the tight end position and wide receiver and I think we helped ourselves there. You look at the tight end position with (Mike) Gesicki, I don't know if I've heard of a kid that was invited to the Army All American game (football) and the McDonald's All American game in basketball, that's impressive. I don't know if I've heard of that before and the wide receivers that we were able to track. Our coaches did a great job recruiting those guys, but it helps when you have (Christian) Hackenberg; he's going to attract those guys as well.
Q. You talked about guys you recruited late in the process. Torrence Brown was one of them, you offered him Monday, I think, and what does he bring to this class? I know he's a versatile guy, but where did you see him fitting in this program?
COACH FRANKLIN: We're going to play Torrence Brown at defensive end. We have been recruiting him before he came to camp at our previous institution. You're talking about a guy who is 6 4, 235 pounds playing tailback and linebacker and rushing off the edge, in high school. We think he has a chance to be a 265 pounder, recruited him day one as a defensive end, he was a guy we were going to bring in at the last weekend, at that time we hadn't offered him, he committed to another school, didn't want to come without the offer, had a basketball tournament that he was getting pressure to play in, probably a good thing, it worked out best for everybody because they won the tournament, they were champions, he was the MVP and he still ended up at Penn State. So what we're going to do with a couple of these guys, Saeed Blacknall, Torrence Brown as well as Christian Campbell, we're going to bring those guys in on official visits later on in the year, they will come in on their official visit later on the semester and get to celebrate with their family the commitment to Penn State.
Q. I have a two part question. First, I think earlier, maybe on ESPN this morning you mentioned most of your staff hasn't moved their family here yet. How hectic could you describe a couple of examples of how hectic it's been these last three weeks with recruiting and being on the rode? Secondly, you mentioned having these connections with the guys in the last month, all these recruits you brought in. Were any of these guys just fresh, you just started recruiting them, or had you spoken to them before with Vanderbilt or whatever?
COACH FRANKLIN: We were not going to get in a situation where we come to Penn State, find a guy that we don't know a lot about and start recruiting them. That's a recipe for disaster, we weren't going to do that. We wanted to make sure we knew these kids, knew their families, we had been recruiting them for a long time that's why you see, uncharacteristic of a Penn State recruiting class, these guys come from all over the country, probably more so than any maybe recruiting class we have had here and that's because of the relationships we had previously.
From a scheduling perspective, I think you guys saw it, I think it was a great deal when we got Koa Farmer to commit, until I had to fly out there (California) mid-week and visit the kid, take a red eye back, I think we landed at Dulles, I did a home visit with Nick Scott in northern Virginia and then I flew to Scranton that afternoon and did a home visit with Mr. Noah Beh in Scranton and then I flew to then I flew to Pittsburgh that evening and did a home visit with an unnamed recruit at that time, and then flew that night to Atlanta to have breakfast the next morning with a recruit. So that's how the schedule was. Andy Frank (Director of Player Personnel), who you guys will get to visit with a little bit here, was the mastermind behind the scenes putting this thing together. He's a Princeton grad, a really, really sharp guy, I texted him one night, especially on the red eye flight where I was in a middle seat between two 300 pounders, wasn't happy about that. I texted him and said, "you won't break me, I know you're tryin' to break me, you won't break me." We had some fun with it, but that's how the process went, we were flying around doing whatever we had to do to put this class together and as you guys have heard me say before, working hard to put a product on the field and off the field in this community that everybody can be really proud of.
Q. You your assistants have used the word "length" a lot to describe this class particularly in the secondary. How much of a priority do you place on "height" and "length" when you're recruiting defensive backs?
COACH FRANKLIN: When you look at how the game has changed and the wide receivers we recruited in this class with (Chris) Godwin, who's 6 2 and Saeed, who is 6 3, Gesicki who basically is a high school wideout who's 6 5, 242 pounds right now. We have all been places where you've got a good defensive back but he's 5 8 and he's in great position and does everything right and still can't make the play, so the length is important.
If you're going to recruit a guy that's undersized he better have tremendous leaping abilities and ball skills. Ball skills make guys bigger because they can play the ball. So that's important. That's very, very important for us. The other thing where length is important is in growth potential. I'm a big features guy. I like to recruit guys with massive heads, big hands, long arms, and big feet because that shows growth potential, so we talk about that all the time, recruiting guys with big features and those guys have a chance to grow into big, physical guys on the field and still have the athleticism that we're looking for. You will see our model at offensive line typically we recruit the 6 5, 6 6 guys that are 275, 280 pounds that are high school basketball players because we want speed and athleticism at every position, that's kicker, punter, long snapper, "O" line and a lot of times when you talk about speed everyone thinks about cornerback and running back, we're talking about speed throughout.
Q. You mentioned Hackenberg. Michael O'Connor was already committed when you came to Penn State and then you got Trace McSorely afterward, can you talk about the importance of bringing in a couple other scholarship quarterbacks specifically keeping O'Connor committed and then going and getting McSorley?
COACH FRANKLIN: Although we feel great about (Christian) Hackenberg, he was the only scholarship quarterback at the time when we got the job, so being able to get Michael on board...I don't know if you remember he was basically sitting in the meeting room when I got there and he and his family interviewing me, deciding whether he was going to go to class the next day. Luckily for us, I don't know if you know this, but when he first came from Canada he was in Tennessee at the Baylor school and had come to our camp and worked out for us. We were recruiting him and had a relationship with the family so I think that happened, same thing with Hackenberg we had a relationship with him so I think that helped and Trace McSorley, you look at his background, him and the quarterback who just won the Super Bowl are the only two quarterbacks to ever take their team to four straight (high school) championship games. He lost his senior year but won in 9th, 10th and 11th (grade) and took his team to the state championship (in 12th). He's a winner in every sense of the word so to be able to get two quarterbacks in this class is very important and now we have two quarterbacks in the future and we're going to have to build on that for the next class.
Q. Aside from the physical attributes can you talk about the qualities that you look for in recruits. I know when you were talking about assistant coaches you emphasized guys with Ivy League backgrounds, what are things you look for in recruiting kids like that?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think the first thing is, we want winners, guys that are handling their business academically, challenging themselves in course work. I think you look for absences and tardies on the transcripts. I think that's a strong indicator of work ethic, we want guys that are going to go to class and handle their business academically and we want guys that we can talk about and ask people in the community. It's amazing, you're sitting in the office and there is a student there and you can ask him about one of the recruits and you're going to find out a lot. When you talk to the guidance counselor, the teachers, other students, when you talk to do custodian staff. My mom was a custodian at Neshaminy High School where I went to school and those people are the eyes and ears of the schools.
Asking opponent coaches in the area what they think about them, we want to find out as much information as we possibly can. You go do the home visit, you see how they interact with their mom or dad or one of their parents at home or their little brother or sister, it's all those things. And what we're trying to do is take all that information and try and figure out who this kid is long term. I think we've got a good process of doing that.
Q. With the increased exposure these kids get on ESPN or whatnot, how do you guys as coaches when they finally arrive on campus reset their mind to, "Hey, now we have a job to do?" When they finally get here they have to play football. So at the end of the day what do you do as coaches?
COACH FRANKLIN: We de-recruit them. When they show up it's not walking around and going all over the country and everybody telling you how wonderful you are anymore. Nobody cares about the rankings, whether you're a 2 star or 5 star; it doesn't matter. You went from being the "man" in high school to the bottom of the barrel and how are you going to fight back? Usually it happens when you have a freshman offensive lineman who's 18 years old, 270 pounds and he's going up against a grown man who's 22 years old and 330 pounds, that usually, usually knocks a little bit of the wind out of their sail and makes them realize that they have work to do.
But there's a few every year whether they're in high school, college, or the NFL they just show up and they're better than people, but not very often, it's the guy that's going to be the most competitive and that's going to work hard to get to where he wants to be. So it goes hand in hand, but we're honest with them. The other thing we talk about all the time is you have to be a grounded individual to not change. It's amazing how many kids and parents we see change through the process, to go around the country for two years and everybody patting you on the back and telling you how wonderful you are and not change.
The type of people that we want to recruit is the guys that stay humble, stay hungry and are appreciative of the opportunity that Penn State has given them.
Q. When you're in the recruiting setting how can you get a good feel for what they are like?
COACH FRANKLIN: To me they're all going to handle it because in the end it comes down to the relationship. They know that, you talk about it through the process but when they come here it's going to be a challenge. They're going to be homesick.
Again, they're going to go from being the "man" at high school to the bottom of the barrel and you've got to support them through that. We can't afford to lose one of these guys that we worked so hard to recruit, so once they show up on campus, it's our job, it's the strength staff and our Big Brother program, things like that to make sure they stick it out because if they do they're going to have a heck of a career. So it's about communication and making sure the parents are there to support us in helping their son grow as well as their high school coaches.
Q. You guys have four of the kids in this class coming off a significant injury, Daquan Worley, the Allens, Johnathan Thomas, ACL's, ankles, where are they at?
COACH FRANKLIN: You guys are going to find out real quick we don't talk about injuries, I'm not really sure what you are talking about. All of them are as healthy as they've ever been, they drink lots of milk (laughter), they stretch, they stay in great shape, but we will never talk about injuries. That's their business, that's the programs business and we want everybody that we're competing against to be concerned about our entire roster so we won't discuss injuries and I'm not sure what you're talking about. All of them are as strong, as fast, and as flexible and explosive as you can imagine, you should see these guys, beautiful.
Q. With all the different all star games that will come up in the spring and summertime we've never gotten your take on that as far as kids competing in events, the "Big 33" and that kind of stuff, that okay with you?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's about risk and reward. We're going to support these guys because I want them to have a great high school experience and then go on but I think they have to take those things into consideration, the kids, the parents, the high school coaches and just understand, is this game worth the risk of possibly getting injured? Whatever they decided to do, we're going to support them. I want them to have a great high school experience and when they come to college they have no regrets.
That's up the individual, that isn't my decision, whatever they decide to do we will support them.
Q. James, a lot has been made about you going after Vanderbilt's commitments. Did you feel that was right and does a coach usually sell his school to the kids or does he sell himself?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I'm very comfortable I go to sleep at night feeling really good about how we conduct our business. When we got the job, we called all the Penn State commitments, had great conversation with them, kind of told them who we were and the next thing we did was called all our former Vanderbilt commitments to let them know what happened and why, and to be honest, a lot of those kids started recruiting us and it's because of the relationship. And we all know the school is a huge factor, but once the guys narrow it down to a number of schools it's no different than anybody else in this room it comes down to relationships, it comes down to who you're most comfortable with. And from that point on, in my opinion, it's my own responsibility to do everything in my power to help Penn State be as successful as we possibly can and we leave that up to the kids and their parents to decide what is in their best interest. Very, very comfortable with our staff and how we handle our business and couldn't be more proud to put a product and team on the field that everybody can be excited about.
Q. I was wondering in your opinion, could you identify three or four qualities or traits that a great college football recruiter has to have, to have success? Also, was there a place on your coaching resume where you finally felt like you were a good recruiter, whether it was working with a head coach or you kinda learned how to become a good recruiter?
COACH FRANKLIN: The traits, you've got to be confident. You've got to walk into these schools and the guys that we're going to be recruiting against are going to be the top programs in the country and you've got be confident to walk in and compete with those guys.
You have to know your product and sell your product, all the strengths and the history and traditions that we have here at Penn State. You have to have some personality, you have to be charismatic and honest and open and up front and transparent with everything. I feel like that's one of the strengths of this staff is guys that are very, very true to who they are and I think that comes off and it's not something that happens overnight, it's years and years of recruiting and developing a relationship.
When we started to have some success and I started to get experience as a recruiter, probably my first big job when I was at the University of Maryland and named recruiting coordinator and had some success there, but it's been an evolution. I've always been in a situation and been on staffs where you emphasized recruiting because to me it's very, very simple -- the plays work better with good players. We want to be successful and we want to have a chance to go out and win a bunch of games and do it the right way and good players and good people and people of high character will help you do that.
Q. You mentioned earlier how many states you went to, to get recruits for this class. It was a unique situation but in the future do you plan on focusing more on the mid Atlantic region or how do you look at the future?
COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, we're going to go wherever we have to go to find players. If that is Denmark, if that is Japan, wherever we have to go to find players we're going to do it. I think some of our recruits are trying some of our coaches are trying to decide who is going to recruit Hawaii and places like that...the Bahamas has just started big time football. We're going to go where we have to. Our job is to do way great job in this state, I think you guys have heard that before and in this region, as well, Penn State has done historically a great job six hours from campus but on top of that we want to recruit nationally by position. So we're not going to have a coach necessarily assigned to Idaho, but if there is a great player from the state of Idaho and he's at your position you better know who he is and that's kind of the philosophy we're taking, that's how we will cover the rest of the country.
First, it's going to start with this state and then number two to this region, six hours from campus and after that we'll cover the rest of the country nationally.
Q. How important is it for the program to celebrate a day like signing day? You've been doing a lot of media things today and the Signature Event tonight and things that haven't happened at Penn State a lot. How important is it to get into the atmosphere on a day like this?
COACH FRANKLIN: I know things have been done differently here in the past but we're going to stay true to who we are while being respectful of the past here. I know how hard this coaching staff has worked as well as the administrative staff and our players as well as hosts and things like that. These coaches have not had a day off since June when we started camp, so today is a celebration of all the hard work they have put in. We will enjoy ourselves and then tomorrow these guys will have a chance to go see their families and do some moves and things like that. We're going to have off Thursday and Friday and the weekend to allow coaches to go home and see their families and try to get moved.
Yeah, I think that's very, very important from a moral standpoint when you work so hard at something that you take time to take it all in and that's what today is about. For us, we didn't have a lot of drama. The guys that we expected to sign in the last two days signed. Most of the letters were in by 7:45 (a.m.), so it went well and that's just what we believe. We're going to enjoy the wins on the field, in recruiting and in the classroom. We're going to enjoy them and celebrate them with our team.